I was asked by Nicole in the comments on her post The Obese Bulimic to write about my experience with bingeing and purging in a public setting – and I’m inspired by Emma’s honest and courageous post about her own struggles with binge eating.
My eating disorder has very blurred beginnings, as I was weird with food from a very young age – hiding food and restricting as well as eating everything in sight when we were allowed to, from as young as four years old. I lost a fair bit of weight in my last years of high school (dancing full time at a state ballet company dance school) not just from the insane work load, but from depression caused by what was going on at home and school – there was never any way out of hell. Eating, most of the time, was just too hard, not to mention that I started strangely being paranoid of the girls who bullied me seeing me eating.
Probably, they bitched about everything else with me, they had bitched about how gross some of the food I had was. I imagined the next thing they would pick on would be the way i ate. Shame and food were inextricably linked early on for me.
After fleeing home, at first, eating was difficult, but i soon realised I COULD eat. There were no limits aside from what was available. And I ate, and ate, and ate. It comforted me. It was warm, like a hug. I didn’t have to think about anything when I ate. Hurting about my past and being so rejected and unloved by my mother didn’t hurt so much when I was scoffing tim tams.
Do we even NEED an excuse?
Of course, as a dancer, the weight gain (which I hadn’t expected, funnily enough, since my mind had never before been focussed on losing weight or dieting) – was disastrous. I soon linked weight gain to all the problems in my life. And being told by the lecturers at the university where I was now dancing full time that I was too big and needed to lose weight helped crystallise for me that weight loss = everything will be soooo much better!
For clarification – weight loss =/= solving your problems (or happiness, popularity, inner beauty, employment or promotion, wealth, confidence etc etc etc). this I know now.
But I launched myself now on diet after diet. It became my obsession, i researched every single diet known to man as though I was enrolled in nutrition or dietetics rather than dance.
The ultimate JUNK food..
Long story short, after a number of failures (because diets do NOT WORK, I can’t say that enough) – Ed took over and created rules taken from the books I had ‘dined upon’ – took them too far. For example low carb = NO carb. Low fat = NO fat, and if calories were so bad, why not just cut all of them out completely? Not long after that, guess who ended up in the hospital for her first admission in the eating disorders unit?
Yes – me.
I sincerely did NOT believe I belonged there. It took a couple of admissions before I could admit to myself that I did. I was powerless over the anorexia. I could not put anything in my mouth that was against my rules. But I relaxed enough to gain weight eating ‘safe’ foods and be considered ‘better’ and be discharged (in those days, many years ago now, the eating disorder unit I spent so much time in barely had a program and food and meals were pretty relaxed.)
Of course, I would go back to where I started – only worse. For some reason i kept getting worse. I would try to follow the meal plan they wanted me to follow, but I couldn’t trust myself. I threw out a lot of food because I was scared I wouldn’t be able to stop at one meal of it – and then just gave up and reverted to starving.
While all this was happening I was being abused and raped by a man. He did not live with me but came and went as he pleased. I didn’t want to be with him in the first place – he simply picked me up and put me in his car when I tried to walk away. After what he did to me, I just wanted to throw up. I was so defiled and dirty and had to GET IT OUT. But I couldn’t. Not for want of trying! But I just could NOT throw up. (probably had something to do with the fact that I wasn’t eating ENOUGH to throw up anyway.)
During this period I drank copious cups of warm water and epsom salts. Please do NOT try this. It’s disgusting. The worst thing I ever tasted. And dangerous. For me, remembering my mum referring to it as what they used in ‘her day’ as a good clean out of the system, it was the only way I could feel ‘clean’ after the bastard had his way with me.
Then, a few years into the constant hosptialisations, I got talking with another girl on the ward, who claimed she had bulimia (she did not. She had munchausens – bulimia was another in a long list of illnesses she manufactured for attention, but was soon found out.) She, in front of me, ate an entire loaf of bread, toasted, smothered in butter and jam and honey, drank an entire 2 litre bottle of full cream milk. I was just goggle-eyed… I had never seen anyone eat so much, not even my brother who could polish off enough for four big adults in one sitting. Seeing my horror, she pulled me by the arm, we snuck down the hallway to the toilets and she quickly locked us inside. Where she proceeded to step-by-step demonstrate throwing up. It was DISGUSTING to watch, but something clicked in my sick, sick mind – and when I later tried myself, I was able to throw up my meals.
So I became a restricting anorexic who threw up her lettuce leaves, and the spiral of sickness plunged ever deeper.
Another few years passed – this time the fellow patient was rabidly bulimic – she was in utter hell. She did not CARE who saw her bingeing. She was that desperate. She stole half chewed food off the elderly patient’s plates. She ate from the bin. She hoovered up everything in sight, even when nurses were trying to pull her away. One day on an earned walk off the ward, i ran into her in the hospital canteen where she was buying a HEAP of food. She asked me if I would like to join her, and curious, I did. She ate and ate and ate! And soon I joined in. We went from canteen to canteen, I ate five paddle pops! At first I thought to myself – I have been so good, working so hard, gaining weight – come on Fi, you deserve a treat. Have a paddle pop. But then I had another paddle pop, and soon I’d had five. And then we were in the toilets throwing up before going to the next canteen (there were three on hospital campus back then.)
click to go to Binge Eating Therapy site.
I later learned she went to a popular buffet restaurant, Sizzlers, every day and just ate and purged and ate and purged. I later was friends with one of the young people who had worked at that restaurant (small world!!) who told me of the horror and dillemma that the staff there were in – after all it was all-you-can-eat, and you can’t exactly say to a patron, you are eating too much. that is what they have paid for – free for all. But THIS girl was throwing up and coming back for more and more for hours at a time. They could see it, the other diners could see it – she simply did not care as long as she could binge and purge. Their biggest dilemma was the fear (and real risk) of her collapsing or dropping dead in their restaurant. It was an ethical minefield, and most of the staff were really just kids themselves still.
Click to go to the Alliance For Eating Disorders site
Myself? i continued with my purging behaviour, but ‘every now and then treats’ (really binges) grew in size and regularity. Soon after being discharged, I had fallen into an endless cycle of starving all day and binging and purging at night in place of even attempting to eat meals. I felt like I was in a dream a lot of the time – no longer did I need to deny myself when I was hungry or craving (which was always) – it was anything goes. As long as I got rid of it. I also became physiologically ‘hooked’ – blood sugar swings so violent that a few minutes after purging I would be dizzy, shaking, blacking out and terrified, and frantically searching for more food to binge on just to feel like I wasn’t going to pass out or worse.
From then onwards, I really was in freefall. My weight plummeted. The hospital quit trying to make me gain as much weight – my discharge weight set by them fell to just-clicking-over-from-bmi 13 to bmi 14. That too made me feel that they had given up on me and were just keeping me alive because legally, me being under their care on an involuntary treatment order – they had to.
My bingeing behaviour became the only way I coped with life, and when things were harder, I was out of control. On my numerous admissions to restore weight or medically get me out of danger, the staff decided to keep me in a locked HDU rather than let me join the program. I was never out of control to the degree my friend had been, but because I was so medically compromised and so underweight (as low as BMI 9) bingeing and purging was deadly. Not only did it strain my body terribly, but it took just one purge to make my potassium levels plunge dangerously low – which potentially could lead to cardiac arrest. Even when I was doing ‘better’ and not bingeing or purging, they refused to consider letting me on the open ward like anyone else. From then on, when I was admitted, they automatically put me in there, no questions asked.
The HDU is a horrible place to be, it’s reserved for the sickest patients. The violent ones. All your possessions are confiscated, even shoes and underwear. Often eye glasses and dentures are taken. I had to fight for my hearing aids. The idea is that ANYTHING in the hands of a crazy person can be turned into a weapon against themselves or others. And after several fires, that included paper, books, etc. You were restricted to hospital pjs, no underwear in case you hid something in your regular clothes. So I sat there, day after day, in a bare white room. Nothing to see, do, read. No clock to tell the time with. No pen or pencil to write with. It was utter hell and I lost more and more of ‘who am I?’. I forgot who I was, I forgot there was a world out there. And I slowly became a blank nothing.
As I grew sicker, they had to resort to feeding me intravenously – via TPN. As pulling out a picc line was so dangerous, I was restrained with two point restraints (your wrists are tied to the bed on either side when you lie on your back) to prevent any possibility of pulling the line out.
Psych nurses here are rarely required to care for someone in that position. I had bedsores, was left dirty after toileting, was bathed irregularly, my mouth was allowed to go so dry that the nursing director threatened that heads would roll. And lying on your back in one position for weeks on end is very painful.
This is a cautionary tale. Rarely when we set out with something that seems like a good idea at the time, do we envision what it could very well lead to. We often don’t think that the worst could possibly happen to US. I certainly thought that. Bingeing and purging when I started seemed an amazing way to eat all that yummy stuff I’d not had after subsisting on pretty much nothing for years – and not pay for it. But you pay. You always pay. And dearly. Many people pay with their LIVES. I am lucky I have not – but every single time I do it, I am putting my life on the line – I could die. So could you. I have had friends die from it. A couple died after they STOPPED doing it because it was too late to reverse the damage they had done.
So please, please, seek help. And try your best to help yourself in the community. Hospitals and treatment centres are minefields of tips and tricks passed from patient to patient. Ways to cheat, ways to compete. You only ever cheat yourself in the end.
The best advice I could give to someone who had to go to a hospital or treatment centre would be to keep your eyes on your own plate in all ways – literally when at the table. On your own journey – because so many of us (I did too) compare our journey – “That girl is so much sicker/thinner/more disordered/eats less/purges more than me”. We will NEVER win this way. We will ALWAYS find ourselves wanting, and have lost a valuable chance to work on what is really the problem.
Because it’s not the food or the weight. It’s something far, far deeper than that. And it needs to be addressed in order to stop needing your eating disorder to cope with it.
Click to go to the Butterfly foundation page (Australia)
Click to go to the Academy Of Eating Disorders (worldwide)
What do you think should happen when someone is obviously bingeing and purging at an all-you-can-eat restaurant?
Have you been affected by other people with eating disorders that you have met? How?